Retailer tells agency it is willing to engage in conciliatory process
Walmart Inc. likely discriminated against 178 female workers by paying less or denying promotions because of their gender, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in memos viewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The EEOC documents ask Walmart and the women who filed complaints to come to “a just resolution of this matter,” which could include a settlement and changes to Walmart’s practices, say labor lawyers. If Walmart and the women don’t reach an agreement, the EEOC could file a lawsuit against the retailer.
The determination by the federal regulator marks a milestone in a nearly two-decade effort by current and former store workers to seek damages from the retail behemoth for discrimination.
In 2001, Walmart workers pursued a sprawling class-action suit against Walmart, alleging the retailer systematically paid 1.6 million female workers less than men and offered fewer promotions. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 the group had too little in common to form a single class of plaintiffs.
Since then, more than 1,900 women have pursued cases and filed charges with the EEOC against Walmart alleging sex discrimination, said Christine Webber, a partner at the law firm that argued the Supreme Court case on behalf of the women and has acted as co-counsel on the cases since then. The law firm shared the EEOC documents with the Journal.
A spokesman for the EEOC said the agency can’t comment on investigations or the administrative process unless litigation is filed. Joe Sellers, head of the employment practice at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the firm acting as co-council for the women’s filings, declined to comment on settlement talks.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll assisted in filing claims with the EEOC for nearly 2,000 women against Walmart in the wake of the Supreme Court loss in 2011 and 2012. Over the years a handful of those women withdrew their claims and some pulled out of the EEOC process to file lawsuits. More than 1,700 women still have claims pending against Walmart with the EEOC, the firm said.
“For some of these women, they have been waiting a long time to have some kind of evaluation of their claims and ultimate closure,” said Mr. Sellers. “Our hope is that this sets the stage for resolution of these charges and others like them.”
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